In our freight car building and detailing adventures, we sometimes forget about finishing the wheelsets and trucks that carry the latest builds around our model railroads. Here are a couple of tips to enhance these components and the final freight car effort.
Long ago I standardized on metal wheelsets for all rolling stock. Through many experiences, I found metal wheels seem to reduce the amount of dirt accumulation on the rails and wheels. About a decade ago, I decided to install wheelsets with a thinner tread on most of my freight cars. These thinner treads better reflect the prototype. The wheelsets are often labeled as semi-scale or code 88 wheels. No matter what you use as a standard, the finishing steps will elevate the appearance.
I usually process a couple of wheelset batches, usually 24 at a time, so there are plenty on hand as models are completed. First, I wash these using warm water, a grease cutting dishwashing detergent such as Dawn, and a soft toothbrush. Use a small plastic dish at the kitchen sink and insert a strainer over the drain so stray wheelsets do not disappear. Rinse thoroughly and set aside to dry. Click on any image here to review a larger size.
I use a micro brush to apply a rail brown color on all parts of the wheelset except the tread. I paint the inside axle and backs of the wheels for all the wheelsets first. Once these are dry, I tackle the outer wheel faces. This can be tedious work but you will fall into a groove after the first half dozen. Some people use an airbrush and wheelset holders for this work. Try a few methods and see what works best for you.
I am still working through an old bottle of Polly-S rail brown. Once this is gone I will search for a replacement color along the burnt umber shade. I suspect it may be a few more years before this bottle is done.
Transforming the wheelsets from shiny to weary can make a difference in your rolling stock. Before popping them into the trucks and pressing them into service, read the next part to upgrade your truck appearance.
Most freight car trucks are injection molded in a slippery engineering plastic so the wheelsets can roll easily. The predominant color is black although some oxide red or mineral brown trucks can be found. Black trucks look like empty spaces under a model as they absorb light and detail can be difficult to see. I’ve read of modelers using baking soda with a grit blaster to give trucks a rougher surface for paint adhesion. While I’d like to have a grit blaster, I don’t know when I will add that tool to the stable. About a year ago I developed a technique to lighten truck color and to add color.
As a first step, I use a truck tuner to clean and de-burr the axle cones of the truck. The parts are washed in a similar manner as the wheelsets using warm water, a grease cutting dishwashing detergent such as Dawn, and a soft toothbrush. Once they are dry, we can prep for the next phases.
Using blue painter’s tape, mask over the bearing surfaces. I use small pieces to cover the axle cones and a large piece wrapped around the bolster. Once a truck is taped up, insert a skewer through the kingpin hole. Check the skewer fit before taping up the trucks as some skewers are too large for the kingpin hole. I mount a couple pair of trucks per skewer and usually have three or four skewers ready for finishing.
The next step employs a rattle can of clear flat and a product labeled as Rottenstone, which is a very fine polishing abrasive. A Google search will bring up a number of places to purchase the material. I first read about Rottenstone in the Narrow Gauge & Short Line Gazette and bought a container of it at the 1997 narrow gauge national convention. A little goes a long way in weathering many kinds of models. Rottenstone and many weathering powders or chalks act as an abrasive on a working surface. This is why the bearing surfaces are taped over in the previous step.
Hold a skewer of trucks and spray clear flat evenly. While this is wet, dust the Rottenstone onto the truck sideframes using a soft brush. I usually load the brush and tap the material onto the sideframe before brushing. I do this over a container or a sheet of paper so the excess can be collected. Once all the trucks are well dusted, set the skewer aside to dry. The corrugations in a sheet of cardboard are about the right size to hold the skewers.
At this point, you may want to consider adding color to the sideframes. My railroad modeling focuses on late 1926 and many trucks ended up with the same color as the car body, intentionally or just from paint overspray. After the trucks are sprayed and dusted with Rottenstone, the color is a light grey. I add an additional color by carefully rolling a Q-Tip loaded with craft paint across the surface. I don’t want color to get deep into the crevices of the sideframe. By hitting the outer surfaces, the detail is more pronounced and easier to see in service. I usually prep a few trucks using red oxide, mineral brown, and a darker grey so they will look good under freight cars of the typical colors. Here’s another image to compare the truck work. The gondola on the right is an unaltered model.
As a final step, I gently pull an orange color pencil across the springs and I may add a touch of black around the journal boxes to represent an oily area. I have also used rust color Bragdon powders and Pan Pastel colors around the journal boxes. You can go to all sorts of extremes with truck weathering, but I try to just keep it simple. Changing the color from black to dark grey, brown, or oxide red can add to your model.
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